By June Cheong
Food became a source of both pleasure and loathing for 21-year-old Natalie Tan a year ago.
Her battle is not fully over.
While the National University of Singapore undergraduate is now recovering from anorexia, she still struggles with her weight, which is now 38.3kg.
The 1.54m tall waif said of her conflicted relationship with food: 'I'd visit a lot of food blogs and stare at the pictures in them. I'd tell myself I'll eat when I've dropped 2kg. When I had got to that weight, I'd want to drop another 2kg.'
She added: 'I didn't know how to get out of being anorexic. I just felt stuck and so obsessed with my weight I had no time to worry about anything else.'
Anorexia nervosa, or anorexia, is an eating and psychological disorder. An anorexic patient diets to lose weight and becomes obsessed with losing weight and gaining a sense of control over his or her body.
Miss Tan's wretched journey into anorexia started in February last year. Her then-boyfriend had joined a company selling slimming products. On a whim, she went through the firm's body analysis test.
One of the company's consultants then said she had too much body fat. Miss Tan was flabbergasted as she had always led a healthy lifestyle.
Among other things, she had avoided eating deep fried food, made sure she ate lots of fruit and vegetables at meal-times, jogged and did light weights training.
She recalled: 'After that test, I remember feeling disgusted with myself. I started feeling I was made up of only layers of fat within.'
Miss Tan began dieting, taking meal supplements and whittling down her portion sizes. Soon she became obsessed with counting calories and skipped meals.
By May last year, she was surviving on 200calories a day. The average woman aged between 18 and 29 years with a moderate activity level needs 2,100 calories.
When she attended a sports camp in July, her friends were shocked by how much weight she had lost.
She said: 'They couldn't recognise me. But every time I looked in the mirror, I thought I looked the same.'
Her retiree father, Mr Eric Tan, 53, said: 'It was scary for my wife and I as she just kept losing weight and was not eating.'
Miss Tan's low body weight meant that her body was unable to heal itself when she sustained injuries. A few light knocks she suffered while playing games at the sports camp left her with scars, scabs and bruises which took three weeks to heal.
Her condition also led to insomnia and she would often wake from a night of interrupted sleep with aching bones.
She knew something was wrong with her, yet she still would not eat.
At her lightest, she was 32.9kg. Now 38.3kg, she has a target weight of 43.8kg.
She said: 'When I didn't eat, I had a feeling of control, empowerment and self-discipline.'
When she visited her brother Aaron in Britain in July, she ate but then threw it up.
She said: 'With little body fat, I was freezing even with four to five layers of clothing.' It was summer then and although the weather was not hot, most people wore light jackets.
'I started eating because I was greatly tempted by the food there. Afterwards, I'd feel bad, go to the toilet and throw everything up.'
When she returned to Singapore in August, she deferred university for that semester and was admitted to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) as an anorexic patient for a month.
She had seen a psychologist before she left for Britain at the behest of her parents. The psychologist then referred her to an eating disorder consultant at SGH, who insisted on hospitalising her two weeks after her return to Singapore as she was unable to put on weight.
There, she attended seminars focusing on body image and acceptance of oneself and had sessions with occupational therapists, dietitians and psychologists. Its programme also included cooking sessions to help anorexic patients overcome their fear of food.
Miss Tan said: 'There was something safe about being in hospital. It was a challenge after my hospital discharge because when I ate out, different places served different portions and I didn't know how much oil was in the food served.'
Miss Tan then went back to eating very little. She was re-admitted to hospital for two weeks at her doctor's suggestion.